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Detainee Hearings Bring New Details and Disputes

By Carol D. Leonnig and Julie Tate
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, December 11, 2004; Page A01

The government contends that Feroz Abbasi trained as a suicide bomber, that Martin Mubanga had a list of Jewish targets in New York he was studying for future attack and that three Bosnian men were plotting to blow up the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo.

Abbasi, they charge, was training in guerrilla warfare at an al Qaeda base called Camp Farooq when Osama bin Laden gave a speech to future fighters just before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.


Feroz Abbasi admitted that he traveled from London to Afghanistan "to take action against Americans and Jews." A tribunal reviewing his case reported that he said he was not disturbed about being called an enemy combatant. (AP)

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"Detainee volunteered for advanced courses . . . because this training was a [prerequisite] for being sent to the front of the front lines," the government concluded. "After completing his basic training . . . he volunteered for a martyrdom mission" to defend an airport in Kandahar from American troops, it said.

The allegations, and dozens like them, have been trickling in to a federal court in Washington in the past several weeks. They publicly reflect for the first time the Pentagon's justifications for detaining some of the 550 captives at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The information comes from special hearings -- conducted by the government at Guantanamo Bay in an attempt to comply with a landmark Supreme Court ruling in June -- in which three military officers weigh the assembled information about the detainees and decide whether they were rightfully held because of links to the Taliban or al Qaeda. The tribunals have conducted 475 hearings. One man has been freed, 193 have been ordered to remain in prison and the cases of the others are pending.

Classified Evidence

The newly released federal court documents provide far more detail than was previously available about dozens of detainees arrested around the world in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and taken to the U.S. naval base in Cuba. They also show how the special tribunals rely overwhelmingly on classified evidence and often ignore information that the detainees assert proves their innocence.

The detainees, who cannot consult lawyers at the hearings, are not allowed to see the classified evidence or learn the sources of the allegations against them.

Several contend that American interrogators physically and psychologically abused them until they made false, incriminating statements about themselves and fellow prisoners, according to their statements to the tribunals or their lawyers. In papers released Thursday, an Australian detainee who faces charges of war crimes asserted that U.S. interrogators repeatedly beat him while he was blindfolded, injected him with drugs against his will and offered him a prostitute in exchange for information about his fellow prisoners.

"I can't believe these things can happen, that they can come and take your husband away at night and, without reason or evidence, destroy your family, ruin your dreams," Nadja Dizdarevic, the wife of a Bosnian Muslim seized by U.S. authorities in January 2002, wrote to the federal court. Her husband, Boudella al Hajj, was taken into custody on the steps of a Sarajevo court that had found him not guilty of terrorism charges.

"Why? Why are they doing this to us?" Dizdarevic asked.

A Pentagon spokeswoman, Capt. Becky Brenton, said the combatant status-review tribunals are not legal proceedings and the Pentagon does not have to meet court standards for the use of evidence or to prove a charge beyond a reasonable doubt. Rather, she said, the wartime military reviews seek to answer one question with the facts close at hand: Is the person an enemy combatant, either because he is a member of al Qaeda or the Taliban, or by supporting them?

"A lot of information and witnesses the person wants to bring forward may not be relevant to answering that question," Brenton said. "Of course, we do have a presumption going into these that they are enemy combatants, based on prior [informal] reviews."

The dispute moved to the U.S. District Court in Washington after the Supreme Court ruled on June 28 that Guantanamo Bay detainees cannot be held indefinitely and that they have a right to contest their imprisonment in U.S. courts. Within days, civil liberties groups began filing claims for detainees; so far, 63 are before the federal court.

Military law expert Eugene R. Fidell said the tribunals fail to provide the due process required in any challenge to a detainee's imprisonment, known as a habeas corpus petition. But Douglas W. Kmiec, a Pepperdine University law professor, said the tribunals are fair because they allow detainees to contest charges, and the Supreme Court did not specify that the military had to do more.


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